Is America Getting Stupider? High School Math And Reading Scores On The Skids

Hear that thud? That's the sound of math scores dropping in high schools across America.

High school seniors throughout the United States are performing poorer in math than ever before. Statistics published in The Nation's Report Card indicate a very disturbing trend. The relatively minuscule number of top percentile students who do well in math and reading continue to excel while the majority of kids tested showed an overall decline in these crucial life skills.

Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics Peggy Carr said the report makes it obvious that "There is a gap, a widening of a gap of higher and lower ability students, and I think that's something we need to think about." National Assessment Governing Board executive director Bill Bushaw called the scores "disappointing."

Test results released this week refer to a pair of nationwide tests that are administered by the National Center for Education Statistics. In 2015, 13,200 high school seniors from all 50 states and the District of Columbia were selected to participate in the math portion of the national test. Math skills tested include number properties and problem solving, measurement and geometry, data analysis and statistics, and algebra. According to Reuters, 19,000 seniors participated in the reading test that measured their ability to comprehend written information. Testing was administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, according to an April 27 Associated Press report.

The test, officially named the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP, ranks math scores on a scale of 300, whereas the reading test utilizes a 500-point scale. The most recent tests, which were administered in 2015, showed the average mathematics score for high school seniors to be 152 points. Senior readers averaged 287 points.

Is America becoming stupider? If test scores are to be believed, yes.

Math scores in US continue to tank
[Photo by Carl Nesensohn/AP Images]

The Nation's Report Card results indicate that only around 37 percent of students scored well enough in reading and math to handle college-level work. And it's not just high school seniors whose test scores are tanking. Last October, USA Today reported a significant decline in math scores for fourth- and eighth-graders who took the NAEP test. The report noted that 2015 was the first time in 25 years that math scores for these age groups went down.

Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. notes that public and private schools have undergone "some of the most significant changes in decades" as classrooms evolve to adapt to different, higher standards. One of those standards involves something called Common Core.

Common Core was implemented in 40 states in 2009. Many states adopted the program as a way to obtain additional federal funding. More states hopped aboard the Common Core bandwagon, leaving only Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia out of the loop. The Common Core program outlines strict standards describing the skills students are expected to achieve by the time they complete each grade from K to 12. The Daily Mail explains that National Assessment testing and Common Core are not the same thing but that they do overlap in a number of ways.

Is Common Core working? Apparently, not all states believe so.

This week, the Michigan state senate approved a measure to eliminate rigorous albeit ineffective Common Core practices from public schools. Patrick Colbeck, a Republican state senator from Canton who sponsored the bill to repeal Common Core, called the curricula "a race to the middle." Phil Pavlov, head of the Michigan Senate Education Committee, said Common Core has been a "disastrous national experiment." Other opponents state that Common Core standards are a "federal takeover" of local education that throttles the abilities of teachers to teach their own way.

Senator Colbeck announced his intention to "replace them [Common Core standards] with standards that actually get us to the top echelon." If things work to his favor, new Michigan educational standards will soon be based on a model that's been working in Massachusetts for a number of years, says Ann Arbor News.

Michigan is not the first state to say no to Common Core. As reported by TeachHub, more than 100 pieces of legislation have been introduced that seek to repeal Common Core in states from coast to coast. Interestingly, Common Core was originally devised by a coalition of the National Governors Association. In 2016, many of those same governors now want Common Core out of their home state. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin calls the program "federal overreach" that "taints" state-led educational initiatives.

What's the solution to all the bad news about Common Core and dismal test scores? This remains to be seen. All this writer can tell you is that if a young cashier manages to count back your correct change after a purchase this week, relish the moment. It may not be long before American kids can't do math at all.

[Photo by Associated Press/AP Images]